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Opinions of Thursday, 28 May 2020

Columnist: Maxwell Bonnah

Free SHS: Govt to sing praises or blame coronavirus for WASSCE 2020 results?

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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which has caught the world by surprise swept across in the past few months has not only had a significant impact on public health, society, and the economy but has also inflicted havoc on the educational system in almost all the affected countries.

COVID-19 has affected all levels of education - from nursery to university with many final year students across the globe facing the greater impart of the mayhem. Although many countries have switched from the traditional way of learning to the cyber world, this move has many downs but, alas, the best option for the current situation.

The situation in Ghana is no different from other countries. As unprepared as many countries are, Ghana seems to be fighting well in this 'world war' looking at the measures put in place to curb the spread of the deadly virus and the results seen so far.

One of the popular measures the President introduced was the ban on social gatherings like religious events, school activities, funeral and many others. This directive has actually helped in this fight and it still poses as a serious threat to the fight as to whether the government is going to lift the ban or not.

The COVID-19 pandemic impact doesn't end on the surface of the Ghana education system, If I am to explore deep down into the situation, the pandemic threatens the results of the first batch of students from the popular 'Free SHS programme'.

It has been three years now since the current President, Nana Akufo-Addo introduced free Senior High School education (SHS) programme in Ghana. This policy was made popular in his campaign towards the 2016 general election. Many critics spoke against the policy but like we say in our Akan proverb 'If a blind man says he will throw a stone at you, he probably has his foot on one'.

The free SHS policy to me was a very big risk the current government took. But I believe also that 'some risks are worth taking'. Believe it or not, the free SHS would have been implemented sooner or later. Article 25 of Ghana’s 1992 constitution provides for equal rights to educational opportunities.

The article also introduces progressively free education at the secondary level. This constitutional right needed to be fulfilled one day and I think that day has come. This risk, if upheld with high esteem, will help extirpate many of the country's unending challenges, ranging from illiteracy, ignorance, sanitation, and also going to help win the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).

It has been three years down the line since the government introduced this policy, and it is now time for the Akufo-Addo lead government to reap the seed they sowed in 2017. Billions of cedis have been invested in this great policy with so much optimism by the government of Ghana and Ghanaians in general. But do we believe the optimism is still achievable?

COVID-19 with its unending mess seems likely to affect the WASSCE results of the 2020 final year students, beneficiaries of the free SHS. WASSCE was supposed to start in June but has been put on hold till further notice due to the ban on public gatherings. Since March when the ban was announced, students at all levels have been forced to stay at home.

Although the tertiary institutions have adopted other means like online studies to keep the academic work going, this move doesn't favour senior high schools, This has left SHS students with no option than to wait to see how far this pandemic will take us. In this sense, I am pushed to ask, 'how many of our students in this condition will be disciplined enough to read on their own? Also how long can he/she continue to do so without knowing when and how the school will be reopened? Is the home environment going to pave way for them to study on their own?'

Free SHS' biggest challenge aside inadequate infrastructure is the 'completion of syllabus', Many education stakeholders believe that with the introduction of double-track system, duration of courses will be lessened and that it will let many teachers to forgo a lot of subjects. In spite of that, these challenges were quite managed until the novel coronavirus manifested and blew everything.

President Nana Akuffo-Addo is with great feeling and optimism that this first batch will make him proud to shame critics and backbiters of this initiative. “As you know, not everybody wanted the Free SHS programme. We had powerful sources within this country that opposed it. Some people said it was too big a drain on the country’s resources.

They have even indicated that when they come into the office they will review it. I want you to do one thing for me – in your exams that will be held in June next year which will be the first exams for the products of the Free SHS system, use it to shame them so that everybody in Ghana will know that yes, Free SHS was a good idea”, he told the students in October 2019.

Looking at the situation now, is the President going to sing praises or sing blames? Your guess is as good as mine.

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